According to the Swan Island website, the ferry ride across the Kennebec River takes 5 minutes.
I don’t want to call that fake news, but it may be an inflated number.
Standing at the Richmond waterfront looking across at the 4-mile-long island, which was originally settled as the town of Perkins, you’d swear you could walk across the Kennebec to get to your destination, if the water was just a little more shallow. And maybe a little warmer.
Point is, Swan Island is quite literally a stone’s throw from the Richmond shore and getting the flatbed ferry prepped to make the traverse ($8 for adults, reservations required) takes about as long as the trip itself. Still, a Fisheries & Wildlife employee makes the back-and-forth trip four times a day, from Memorial Day through October, so why not take a ride?
But first …
The street signs in Richmond boast of the town’s combination of history and nature. Incorporated in 1823, Richmond actually got its start as Fort Richmond back in 1719, according to Wikipedia. Front Street, with a community park right on the bank of the Kennebec, and Main Street, where many of the town’s businesses are located, have long been the main drags.
As you head toward the waterfront, check out the giant cat on guard at the public library at the top of Main Street. Also worth a look is Richmond Home Brew Supply at 54 Main St. You’ll find everything you need to make your own beer, wine, cider and mead.
At the corner of Main and Front, we popped into Annabella’s Bakery & Cafe for a couple apple cinnamon biscuits and a bagel to go. It’s a popular place for breakfast or lunch and our homemade baked goods got us ready for a very full day of walking.
From the ferry landing, the island stretches 4.4 miles to Theobald Point near the tip of Merrymeeting Bay. The walk there and back is doable in the 3 hours between ferry pickups, as long as you don’t dawdle too much.
First up on the historic sites list is the Tubbs-Reed House, constructed around 1800 by Major Samuel Tubbs. The Federal-style dwelling was purchased in 1837 by David Reed Jr., a farmer whose land once included 20 apple trees. The Reed family lived there into the 1920s, never adding plumbing or electricity.
Four other historic homes with similar stories remain on the island, and you’ll pass all of them along the dirt road. There’s also a wildlife viewing tower just past mid-island (bald eagles have a soft spot for Swan Island) and a deer exclosure. We saw no deer during our visit but a friend who visited the island just two days before saw several.
The island cemetery is what really tells the history of the island with several generations of island families buried inside the white picket fence. Many of the old headstones are toppled or broken, but the graveyard was in much worse shape before Isaiah Peppard made the cemetery his Eagle Scout project in 1994. Peppard, his friends, family and fellow scouts put in 450 hours of labor to build a new fence, mow, rake, clean and fix gravestones, and create a display case to hold the plot plan and tell some of the history of the cemetery. According to the letter Peppard wrote for the display case, the project cost $1,846.51, all secured by donation.
The island campground is about a mile walk from the ferry landing. If you have kayaks or lots of gear, the Maine Guide operating the ferry will drive you to your site in the island truck.
As soon as we saw the wooden Adirondack shelters, we wanted to make a plan to return to Swan on a camping trip.
Ten structures are scattered around the camping area, plus there’s plenty of room for tents. One camper had a sleeping hammock with a perfect view of the Kennebec stretched across his shelter.
The camping area has a huge open space for Frisbee or other lawn games, fronted by groupings of Adirondack chairs set up near the river. There’s a dock at the campground for paddlers and other boaters. Kayak rentals are $10 an hour or $35 for the full day.
Camping fees are $8 per person plus $20 per site, per night.
The island holds occasional lobster bakes and morning and evening tours. There’s a boat tour on July 8 and plenty of other events to choose from this summer.
After returning on the ferry to Richmond, we asked a couple locals where to get a late lunch and were sent a block up Main Street to The Old Goat.
Housed in a former bank and owned by Scott McIntire, the pub has a lengthy list of adult beverages to choose from (they’re all listed on the wall behind the bar) and specializes in paninis and pizza.
We played a round of cribbage — the boards are available at the bar — while waiting for our pepperoni and meatball pie to cook (one size, large) and listened to McIntire, who tends bar, chat with some of his regulars. Yelp reviews have him tabbed as either really rude or a super nice guy. Whichever is true, here’s a fact: He and his crew make a darn good pizza.
We ate half at the restaurant, then took the rest home with the goal of saving room for dessert at Kimberly’s just a few strides up the street. After walking almost 9 miles across the island and back, we figured we deserved slices of coconut cream pie from the spot that for years was the Railway Cafe. And the pie was good, for sure, but the real treat came later that night when we finished off the rest of our pizza.